Several years ago there was a flood of blaxploitation classics on Netflix streaming. Many of the heavy hitters were on the site and I dug in, watching every one I could find. Such was my introduction to Pam Grier’s early films. I got to see all of the classics, Friday Foster, Coffy, Bucktown and more. I had a copy of Black Mama White Mama on vhs for years and for some reason I never took the plunge. Then this excellent Blu ray came out and it was time to finally watch this exploitation flick.
Filmed in the Philippines, Black Mama White Mama is about a group of women at a prison. They’re all there for different reasons and of course it sucks righteously to be there. Pam Grier plays Lee, a hooker who got hooked by the fuzz. Margaret Markov plays Karen, a convicted terrorist who has ties to a group trying to overthrow the island. The local minister wants to interview both of them and so they’re chained together by the wrist and put on a bus. The bus is attacked by the terrorists and the girls get away but not into the welcome arms of the terrorists. They’re on their own, wanted, and they have to run to survive. Lee stole $40k from her pimp and has a boat waiting for her on one end of the island. $40k is some serious cash now but in ’73 it was over $200k, a serious stake for sure. Karen’s terrorist buddies are on the other end of the island waiting for her. She’s the key for the group to get a load of guns to help their revolution. Such is the conflict throughout much of the film. The girls can’t get along and inbetween being chased they’re slapping each other, fighting about which direction to go in. The local fuzz hire a ruthless outlaw tracker Ruben played by a very hairy and skinny Sid Haig. Now the girls have the cops, Ruben, and all the locals after them. It’s quite a pickle.
Black Mama, White Mama is often lauded as an exploitation classic and I won’t deny that it’s a fun flick. I personally am averse to Filipino flicks. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s the film stock? Maybe it’s the lack of style often found in these films? Who knows? All I know is that they are often snoozers for me. This is the rare film that actually gets better as it goes along, moving towards a violent and climactic ending. Pam Grier looks super young here, she was only 23 when the film was released. This pre-dates some of her more famous roles and it looks it. The flick is cheap and rough but the presentation is fantastic. Arrow once again did a fantastic job restoring the film. I doubt we’ll ever see a better presentation of the film. The Blu is also has plenty of special features with interviews with the cast, a commentary track, and an archive interview with director Eddie Romero.
For my money this is not a top tier Pam Grier flick. If you’ve never watched her exploitation flicks before, watch Coffy first and maybe this one after you’ve seen four or five of her flicks. For exploitation fans that love this flick, it’s well worth picking up.